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NL & DK: Underage drinkers can buy alcohol very easily

24 March 2011. According to Dutch law, the minimum age for purchase of beer and wine is 16 and18 for spirits. The Dutch national policy regarding alcohol and youth relies on retailers' willingness to refuse to sell alcohol to underage customers.

This study carried out by the University of Twente examined unobtrusively whether supermarkets and liquor stores do indeed comply with the legal age restrictions for alcohol sales.

As part of this study, twenty 14 and 15 year-old adolescents visited a total of 236 retail outlets. To make the transaction as real as possible, the young people decided themselves where they would go to attempt to buy drinks.

Of all 236 buying attempts, 75.8% were successful.

Supermarkets were young people's favourite places to buy alcohol (all supermarket chains represented).

In most cases, the mystery shoppers were not asked for an ID. In two thirds of the cases, the buyer's age was not ascertained.

In one quarter of the visits where the mystery shoppers were asked for ID they were still able to buy alcohol.

From 2002 - 2010, the retail sector in the Netherlands launched several campaigns to improve age limits enforcement. The results of the study show however that supermarkets and liquor stores generally fail to see the need for extra care when young customers try to buy alcohol. Legal age restrictions without enforcement and facilitation clearly do not suffice to protect adolescents from early exposure to alcohol.

The new government has abandoned the previous administration's plans to allow local authorities to increase the legal purchase age from 16 to 18 if they have a problem with juvenile drunks.

For more information please contact Joris van Hoof +31 (0)53 489 6131

Here you can find a digital version of the research report (in Dutch).

With very similar results the young members of UNF (The Swedish Youth Temperance Association) carried out some mystery shopping in the city of Copenhagen. The underage Mystery shoppers, of 15 years of age, tested a total of 9 bars and pubs. They were allowed in 7 of those bars and they were able to buy alcohol the 11 times they tried without any problems.

More interestingly, 4 out of these 7 bars were part of the project that the City of Copenhagen is running in partnership with the alcohol industry; “tryg den af” (“Have fun. Be safe”) whose aim is promote responsible selling and serving of alcoholic beverages. The bars and pubs that take part in the project are certified bars and pubs that take responsibility for not selling alcohol to youngsters under the age of 18.